Tag Archives: migratory bird treaty act

Backyard Birding: May Is the Best Time to Be a Birder

By Lee Halasz

Lee Halasz is a native of Australia and is a former conservation professional with the Queensland State Government. He and his family now reside in western Massachusetts, and he volunteered his time with us in 2015. This spring, we feature a series of bird stories Lee wrote to celebrate #birdyear. 

Spring is an amazing time to be outdoors appreciating the fresh buzz of life. While the season can start slowly, May arrives with a bang – it is the peak bird activity month of the year. For birders there is so much action in May, and you don’t want to miss a moment.

‘Birding’ is modern speak for ‘birdwatching,’ and it better acknowledges that appreciating birds includes tuning into their calls and songs, and thereby listening and not just looking at birds. Similarly, ‘birder’ is a modern term for ‘birdwatcher.’ Perhaps both new terms help broadcast the message that having an interest in birds is popular and growing.

birders

Birders spot migratory birds from the Freeland Boardwalk Overlook, a popular wildlife viewing spot at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: Mary Konchar)

 

Look and Listen for Color, Songs and Nests

Birds become especially prominent in May for a few reasons. Firstly, many species migrate back from southern USA, and Central and South America, where they have spent our cooler months. These returning birds increase the variety and number of birds around. Secondly, birds are breeding, and with breeding comes colorful plumages, prominent singing and nest building. And lastly, deciduous trees do not yet have a thick crown of leaves, so many birds are easier to see than they will be in summer.

Some returning birds just pass through, with their final destination further north. They often move through in ‘waves’ made up of many species but especially warblers, and it is both exciting to see many species together and a challenge to try to identify them all.

In May the dawn chorus of singing birds extends well into the day, with birds such as Baltimore orioles, gray catbirds and house wrens all contributing their vibrancy to the sound waves.

oriole

Male Baltimore oriole (Credit: David Brezinski/USFWS)

 

The fresh, colorful plumages of the males make birding in May particularly delightful. Similar-looking species can be more contrasting than other times of the year, making species identification easier.

While American goldfinches are here all year round, in spring the males ‘reappear’ in their bright yellow breeding plumage, after molting out of their drab winter garb. Ruby-throated hummingbirds return, and to see your first one of the season is an exciting May moment. Chipping sparrows reappear on our lawns, scarlet tanagers in forest trees and indigo buntings in fields.

ruby

Ruby-throated hummingbird near Athol, MA (Credit: Bill Thompson/USFWS)

 

The extra activity associated with nest building means birds more easily catch our eye. Eastern phoebes build their mud nests under the eaves of buildings, and eastern bluebirds and tree swallows will use various materials to tailor their nestbox.

nest box

An Eastern bluebird pair on a nest box (Credit: Kent Mason)

 By now American robins and northern cardinals can have chicks in the nest, and the chicks could fledge before May is out.

But sometime in June things start to go quiet. Birds are now busy getting food into the mouths of their chicks, while trying not to draw the attention of predators.

July and August are similarly more subdued, but by September birds begin migrating south, and there is once again a burst of activity, albeit a much smaller one than in May.

May provides a great opportunity to go birding, and perhaps see a species you’ve never seen before. Embrace the season and become a birder!

Common yellowthroat at Sourland Mtn, NJ

Energy company sentencing upholds U.S. commitment to protecting birds

CT warbler

Connecticut warblers were among the songbirds killed at AES Laurel Mountain’s wind energy facility in 2011. This photo is from Flickr Creative Commons, user Matt Stratmoen.

Following the deaths of over 400 migratory birds at its wind energy facility, company AES Laurel Mountain, Inc., was recently sentenced to two counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The case demonstrates that protections for migrating birds are just as important now as they were a century ago, when the Migratory Bird Treaty was signed.

This foundational treaty, and the three that followed, formalized the protection of birds that migrate across international borders. In the U.S., our agency leads the effort to work with federal, tribal, state and other partners to conserve, protect and manage bird populations and their habitats. Today, we share treaties with Canada, Mexico, Russia and Japan aimed at the protection of migratory birds.

For hundreds of years, birds were seen as an unlimited resource for the taking. Overhunting, human disturbance and habitat loss hammered the populations of many birds. These pressures led to the extinction of one of the most abundant birds in North America–the passenger pigeon, once estimated at a population of 3-5 billion. The 19th-century fashion trend of using feathers in hats devastated bird populations, causing the annual slaughter of nearly 5 million birds including the piping plover shorebird. At the turn of the century, women came together to boycott this fashion craze, providing the needed spark start the new trend of conservation.

FROM FLICKR: Oregon Inlet, NC. Bird in basic plumage. Very cold day but the shorebirds were finding plenty of food. After failing to find a Purple Sandpiper at the inlet my attention turned towards the other shorebirds none of them as confiding as this bird pulling worms from the ground at a pretty good rate.

Threats to piping plovers have changed over the past 150 years, from hunting for the hat trade in the 19th century to the current high demand for the Atlantic Coast’s limited beach. Photo from Flickr Creative Common user Julio Mulero.

Today, birds in the U.S. continue to face disturbance and habitat loss. New threats have also emerged: powerlines, pesticide and poisoning, communication towers, wind turbines, and oil pits. Our agency works closely with industry and agriculture to minimize and, when possible, avoid effects to migratory birds.

At AES Laurel Mountain’s wind energy facility in Barbour County, West Virginia, the hundreds of birds found dead in October 2011 weren’t victim to the blades of their wind turbines. Rather, improper lighting during dense fog lured migrating blackpoll and Connecticut warblers, common yellowthroats, ovenbirds and other birds to the wind farm. The combination of fog and extensive lighting confuse birds and trap them in the light, leading to deaths by exhaustion or collision with facility structures. Best management practices avoid this by minimizing unnecessary lighting, down shielding lights away from the horizon, and using lights operated by motion sensors.

 

Common yellowthroat at Sourland Mtn, NJ

Common yellowthroats spend summers in the Northeast. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user Bob Devlin.

As a result of the investigation by our agency, AES Laurel Mountain pled guilty and was sentenced to two counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The sentencing included a total fine of $30,000 and community service where the company agreed to pay $48,300 to the West Virginia Land Trust for conservation of avian species.

While law enforcement is critical to bird conservation, it’s not the only way we can help. Anyone can get involved! Whether you contribute as a partner in a grant project, engage with local organizations through the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds program, or buy a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation (Duck) Stamp – supporting one of the nation’s oldest and most successful conservation programs – YOU have an opportunity to play a crucial role in bird conservation. Learn more about what we do for birds and their conservation and how you can help.

Credit: USFWS

Service special agent reduces injuries to hawks at Mass. landfills

Marla Isaac examines red-tailed hawk. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

Rehabilitator Marla Isaac examines a red-tailed hawk injured at Taunton Sanitary Landfill. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

These methane-burning stacks at landfills are dangerous. They expel flames that burn hawks. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

These methane-burning stacks at landfills are dangerous. They expel flames that burn hawks. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

Designed by Joanne Mason of Keeping Company with Kestrels Inc., these tops are shaped like a crown with sharp points, preventing birds from perching on the smokestack. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

Designed by Joanne Mason of Keeping Company with Kestrels Inc., these tops are shaped like a crown with sharp points, preventing birds from perching on the smokestack. Credit: James Dowd/USFWS

When hawks fly across landfills, they find smokestacks perfect for perching and eyeing prey scavenging waste.

But those smokestacks aren’t so perfect. They ignite, rushing flames upward in speeds the hawks can’t beat, scorching or even killing the birds. Injured birds become prime targets for coyotes and other predators.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent James Dowd has taken a creative route to handle these injuries to hawks at Massachusetts landfills.

In 2011, he got a call from a raptor rehabilitator – an injured female juvenile red-tailed hawk had been found around Taunton Sanitary Landfill.

“The rehabilitator, Marla Isaac, described the hawk’s injuries as burns to the wing and tail feathers,” Dowd says. “She explained that this injury is consistent with having been burned by a methane gas flare stack.”

These stacks burn methane gas, which is produced by landfills for energy and burned to destroy dangerous pollutants in excess gas.

“A single perch discourager would prevent hawks from perching on these flare systems,” he says.

DID YOU KNOW?
Hawks are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Service’s law enforcement enforce this and conserve migratory birds, in addition to helping manage ecosystems, save endangered species, preserve wildlife habitat, restore fisheries, combat invasive species and promote international wildlife conservation. Learn more.

Dowd worked with company operating the smokestack, Fortistar, to get an aluminum top placed on the smokestack flare system. Designed by Joanne Mason of Keeping Company with Kestrels Inc., the tops are shaped like a crown with sharp points, preventing birds from perching there.

To this date, no other bird injuries have been reported, and Fortistar committed to using these tops on all their new smokestack flare systems.

In 2012, another incident demonstrated that other conditions can circumvent the success of these perch-deterring tops. At the Halifax Landfill, the smokestack was positioned between two other perch spots, with the flight path directly over the flame of the smokestack.

This injured kestrel with burns to its wing and tail feathers was brought from the Halifax Landfill for rehabilitation. Credit: USFWS

This injured kestrel with burns to its wing and tail feathers was brought from the Halifax Landfill for rehabilitation. Credit: USFWS

An injured kestrel with burns to its wing and tail feathers was brought from the landfill for rehabilitation. While Isaac expects it will fly again this summer, she won’t release the kestrel because burns to its left eye caused blindness. This kestrel will need to live the remainder of its life in an educational facility.

Dowd worked with the smokestack operator, Republic Services, to remove one of the perch spots, an old utility pole.

“This change in configuration should lessen the chances of a bird flying from perch to perch directly over the flare system,” Dowd says.

In late 2012, Dowd watched as the fully recovered hawk from Taunton Landfill was released at the Lyman Reserve conservation area in Wareham, Mass.

Photo of Marla Isaac from The Clueless Gardeners blog.

Photo of Marla Isaac from The Clueless Gardeners blog.